Home Music Ahmed Gamal, the architect of modern jazz, has died at the age of 92

Ahmed Gamal, the architect of modern jazz, has died at the age of 92

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Ahmed Gamal, a pianist, composer and conductor, has died at the age of 92 from complications from prostate cancer.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jamal began playing the piano at the age of three. As a teenager, he attended the prestigious Westinghouse High School, where he honed his skills as a pianist and composer. In 1949, Jamal moved to Chicago, where he associated with musicians such as Von Freeman and Claude MacLean. During this time he converted to Islam and changed his name from Frederick Russell Jones to Ahmed Jamal. He began performing as a solo pianist in clubs in Chicago, eventually forming his own trio in 1951, featuring bassist Ray Crawford and guitarist Eddie Calhoun.

The Ahmad Jamal trio—which later featured drummer Vernel Fournier and guitarist Israel Crosby—gained fame after the release of their 1958 live album, In Pershing: But not for me. Recorded at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago, the album spent over 100 weeks on the Billboard charts. Its standout track, “Poinciana,” showcased Jamal’s innovative style in a piano trio arrangement, incorporating space, subtlety, and the intricate interplay of various instrumentalists. His ability to emphasize silence and restraint as much as his voice set him apart from his contemporary colleagues and fostered a new style of playing known as “cool jazz”.


Miles Davis, best known for his relentless pursuit of new sounds and ideas, has cited Jamal as one of his favorite pianists and a major influence on his musical direction. This influence was evident in Davis’ use of space, his choice of repertoire, and even his formation of a piano-drums trio.

Throughout his career, Jamal explored new sonic territories. In the 1960s he experimented with larger bands and orchestral settings, and in the 1970s he dabbled in electronic music, incorporating electric pianos and synthesizers into his work. Many of Jamal’s works were later sampled by artists such as Gangstar and Nas.

For his efforts, Jamal was the National Endowment for the Jazz Master of Arts and won a Grammy Achievement Award in 2017.


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